3 Mar 2018

street philosophy

I see a new book on Garry Winogrand is about to be launched. Written by Geoff Dyer whose book The Ongoing Moment I really enjoyed for his lateral take on the history of photography I'm sure it'll be a good read.
Garry Winogrand is such a go-to reference for what I'll call classic - and others may call old fashioned - street photography that it's curious I honestly was not aware of his work when I started practising. Apologies if that's disingenuous. I can see my work reads like a Winogrand-lite tribute act. 
Oxford Street photograph
But my inspiration I recall was through the documentary work of Don McCullin's Homecoming and W. Eugene Smith's Minamata. Back in the day what became known as street wasn't publicly available, in the UK at least. Yes it feels a little sepia toned even writing this. Let me fetch more ink for my quill...
At that time I actually made this type of work, in style and in conscience. Now, in retrospect, it's one of those what-if questions about life (in)decisions. I know I struggled with the anthropological/us & them approach to documentary work which I why I admired for example Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor project that found a way to break down the viewer/photographer/subject relationship into something fresh. 
I have to accept my own style can easily be seen as making no challenge to those relationships. There's no collaboration between myself and what I photograph. They are still subjects. I seek no deeper insight into their condition. My only only nod to objectivity is not to caption the picture. And yet it's that very ambiguity that I find fascinating and enduring. Geoff Dyer comments in his book on a particular Winogrand photograph from the late 50s/early 60s
In colour, people seem necessarily to be walking into the future (when the overwhelming bulk of photography will be colour); in black-and-white, they are emerging from the past (when black-and-white was considered the only medium for serious photography).
It's a question I've thought with regard to my own work. Is it simply a nostalgia trip, a re-tread of old tropes that were new and radical back in the day but now really saying nothing new? I've fallen back on on jazz, one of my favourite comparisons, and the way that standard compositions can be endlessly re-interpreted. I guess the challenge for me is to stay Miles Davis and not Kenny G...
New York City 1987 photograph
Tokyo 2017 photograph
I'm now looking back at my work from thirty years ago and, yes, those people are still emerging from the past...as they are from last year too. Does that continuity, that plus ├ža change, say anything worthwhile? I hesitate to use the phrase human condition as for me it's rooted in that black and white world of Life and Picture Post photography that in a contrary way reinforced social stereotypes while ostensibly celebrating them. But hey are we any more sophisticated now? 
Perhaps I just need to appreciate these pictures for what they are. Tiny breadcrumbs of my life. Watch out. Sounds like a book title...

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